I believe we can learn something about our reaction to COVID-19 from the challenges I and other Marines confronted as we prepared for war in Iraq in the early 90s. Most of what I’m going to tell comes from the time I spent with members of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, which recently  returned from Kuwait.

While there were stories of oil well fires and captured Iraqi soldiers, what was on the minds of most was the possibility that they’d been exposed to chemical weapons. This fear arose because they were forced to don chemical protective gear each time Iraq launched a Scud missile over them and into Saudi Arabia, where units providing support were positioned. When condensate fell from those missiles, or it simply rained while they passed overhead, testing was done on what small pools of liquid could be found in an effort to ensure no chemical agents were dropped before the “all clear” was given. Unfortunately, that was sometimes delayed as antifreeze and petroleum residue occasionally triggered false positives.

Living with that fear was difficult, even for those who didn’t experience it directly. It caused many to wonder if the symptoms they and others experienced thereafter were the result of exposure, the immunizations provided to prepare us for deployment, or PTSD. Those who couldn’t accept and process those fears decided to stop trusting instead. Many hesitated to accept vaccinations developed to protect us after that, just as many hesitate to accept the COVID-19 vaccine today.

Jamie Beaulieu, Farmington

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